Though Japanese artist Utagawa Hiroshige was active more than 150 years ago, his name still resonates today. He was, after all, one of the most masterful woodblock print artists in the history of the medium, and produced more than 5,000 designs that have been translated into many thousands of exquisite prints coveted by the people of the Edo period and beyond. Among his most well-known works are those from his landscapes series, including “The 53 Stations of the Tokaido,” “The 100 Famous Views of Edo,” “The Famous Views of the Sixty-Odd Provinces,” and “The 36 Views of Mt Fuji.” These compositions are centered upon two enduring human pleasures: those of travel along an open road and of taking in the majestic beauty of nature. Translated by Hiroshige into dynamic, nuanced, beautifully colored and crafted prints, scenes of such pleasures are currently on view at Manhattan’s Ronin Gallery in “Masterworks of Hiroshige’s Landscapes,” an exhibition of landscapes selected from his famous series.
The exhibition serves as a celebration of Hiroshige’s innovative approach to woodblock print design. He was especially noted for his bold use of perspective and inventive arrangements of the individual elements in each of his scenes. Among the prints included in the exhibition is Oki: Takibi no Yashiro (1853), from his “The 100 Famous Views of Edo” series. Here he pulls the eye into a vision of water and islands via the weathered brown hull of a great wooden ship. Manned by tiny male figures dwarfed by both its mass and the choppy waters of Tokyo’s Sumida River, its ornamented bow aligns with the smoky-dark islands and trees that fill the topmost portion of this scene. The composition is dominated by the water’s sapphire blue, which causes the bright pops of red, salmon, and yellow on the ship to stand out in high contrast.